A biweekly digest of select reports prepared by Tharwa-Syria
Note: All links below are to the original articles in Arabic.
Tharwa activists continue to monitor the various unconstitutional practices of the ruling regime in Syria. This article argues that, on the basis of Article 122 of the Syrian Constitution, the current government of Prime Minister Naji Otri is itself unconstitutional, because its mandate has never been renewed and its new duties and priorities have never been specified in the aftermath of the presidential referendum on May 27th. Until this happens, the author concludes, all decisions made by the current government can be legally challenged.
This articles comes as a further criticism of the Otri Government and its lax attitude towards official corruption. The inefficacy and corruption of the Otri Government the article argues, is not the sole problem in the country, but it does represent one of its major problems. External threats should not be used as an excuse to demur in the fight against official corruption, on the contrary, the introduction of the much-needed and longed-for democratic reforms will serve to strengthen the country's position in the face of external pressures.
The Tharwa Syria team continued its overage of the electoral processes in the country by monitoring the municipal elections that took place in late August, amidst continuing electoral boycott of the elections partly in response to opposition calls, but mostly as a reflection of the continued alienation that most Syrian electors have vis-à-vis the ruling regime and its institutions. The Tharwa team even carried out a small-scale survey of the attitude of Syrian expatriates to the municipal elections and detected an even more pronounced sense of cynicism, with some complaining against "the unnecessary burden that such formalities pose on state treasury," since their sole purpose is "to bring in new hypocrites and scoundrels to replace old ones."
This report argues that despite the fears of many Syrians that increased pressures on the ruling regime might lead to a scenario similar to what has taken place in Iraq, and despite some similarity with regard to the ethnic diversity in both countries, the realities of Syria society are radically different from those prevalent in Iraq, and this will shield it from a potential ethnic meltdown. The main differences between Syria in Iraq can be summarized in four points: 1) the ability of the Syrian activists to create a platform for political dialogue and activity over the last few years despite continuing repression by the authorities, 2) the increased ethnic mixing that took place in the major cities, coupled with the geographical intermixing of communities on the local level, 3) the Syrians are armed with the foreknowledge of what happened in Iraq, and before it Afghanistan and Algeria, and finally, 4) the the discourse of the political Islamist movements in Syria, is much more flexible.
This two part report summarizes the state of the prisons system in Syria, noting its clear inconsistencies with international standards, the spread of corruption in all levels of the system, the inhuman living conditions which most prisoners have to suffer, the special treatment afforded to the rich and powerful, the mixing of political and criminal prisoners, the proliferation of illegal detention centers, the widespread recourse to torture and the lack of access granted to any human rights group, be it domestic or international, among other infractions.
Masoud Hamid, a Syrian journalist and former political prisoner, currently living in Paris, and who was imprisoned in 2003 for taking part in a demonstration for Kurdish rights, has moved to sue the Syrian regime for the abuse and torture to which he was subjected while in captivity. More former political prisoners and exiles are said to be contemplating similar moves.
On a related note, the fate of Ali Barazi, a Syrian translator for Human Rights Watch and a translator for the Tharwa Foundation, detained by the military security apparatus since July 28, 2007, and the young internet activist Karim Arbaji, detained since June 7, 2007, remains unknown, with the Syria authorities remaining adamant in denying access to them. Meanwhile, the crackdown against civil liberties continues culminating in a mass arrest of 68 citizens including 22 minors in the township or Turan in northern Syria.
The news that the Syrian authorities will go ahead with the decision to raise fuel prices by yearend has dismayed most Syrians who are becoming quite vociferous in their criticism of their government's internal policies of late. The recent assertions made by Deputy PM for Economic Affairs, Dr Abdallah al-Dardari, to the effect that the government has no choice but to raise the prices of petroleum products to reflect global prices and that the parallel rise of basic consumer items currently taking place in the country will be temporary in nature, and that prices will eventually return to their normal levels, have been received with much skepticism and anger. "Our officials are living in a completely different and separate world than that of the people," complained one Syrian, "there is no sensitivity or logic to anything they say or do. It is simply illogical that prices of petroleum products and most other products be commensurate with international standards when both the salaries and the domestic production capacity is less than 10% of international standards. If they think the people are simple and stupid, they should know that they are limits to that."
Meanwhile, prices of basic commodities have risen by a factor of 3o% in comparison to the way they were last year, while the prices of vegetables and fruits have risen by a factor of 200% !! Add to that raising costs of electricity and raw materials, and it is not wonder that some Syrian youth are beginning to cry out: "find us a new homeland."